Separating side effects from symptoms

MS is a complex medical condition with many different symptoms. Experts don't know why there are such big differences in the way MS "shows up" in different people. Symptoms can be mild or severe. Not all people with MS will experience all symptoms, and often the symptoms will improve during periods of remission.

Symptoms will depend on the location of the myelin damage (myelin is the protective layer surrounding your nerves) and can include:

  • weakness, numbness, and tingling (in the arms, legs, or other body areas)
  • extreme fatigue
  • muscle stiffness or spasticity
  • shaking and loss of coordination
  • poor balance and unsteadiness, which can cause a staggering gait
  • speech disorders such as slurred speech
  • depression
  • pain
  • troubles with memory, concentration, thinking, or solving problems
  • vision changes or vision loss
  • vertigo and dizziness
  • bladder problems
  • bowel problems
  • sexual problems
  • heat intolerance

In addition to these symptoms, people with MS may experience side effects, which are undesirable effects associated with the use of medications. All medications have the potential to cause side effects, but some are more likely to do so than others. The key group of medications for MS treatment belongs to the disease-modifying, or immunomodulator, family.

Treatments for MS may cause side effects, but these vary from medication to medication. Research studies show that most side effects are manageable.

The side effects of MS medications are important because they present another challenge for people with MS. Since treatments should help people with MS maintain their current level of functioning so they can continue doing the activities they value, side effects should be the last thing to slow people down!

Figuring out whether you are experiencing a side effect of a medication or a symptom of MS is the first step. If you are unsure, discuss your concerns with your team of health professionals – they are there to ensure that you get the most from your MS treatments.

Familiarize yourself and know how to deal with side effects and symptoms, as MS medications involve a long-term commitment. It is important that people with MS use treatments as directed by their doctors and continue to with their treatment unless their doctors suggest otherwise. Read on for ways to take control of side effects.

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